Letebrhan Haylay Gebreslasea winning the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon (© Organisers)
Defending champions Letebrhan Haylay and Husen Muhammedahin Esmael achieved entirely different outcomes at the 2018 Yellow River Estuary International Marathon on Saturday (5), as Haylay broke the women’s course record for the second straight year at this IAAF Gold Label road race while Esmael conceded his lead some 500 metres before the finish, forced to settle for fourth.
Last year, Haylay, 27, cut nearly three and a half minutes from the course record of 2:28:27, set by compatriot Mestawet Tufa in 2014, with her 2:25:01 victory in her first appearance in the Chinese city of Donging, where the Yellow River flows all the way from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to make its way into the Pacific Ocean.
Nonetheless, Haylay was not considered the favourite this year in a field led by her Ethiopian countrywoman Yebrgual Melese - at least in terms of personal bests. The 28-year-old Melese registered an impressive PB of 2:19:36 when she finished third at the Dubai Marathon in January, which marked the fourth fastest time on the world list this year.
But Haylay was more familiar with the course as well as the blazing early May sun here and made good use of those advantages. She broke clear from Melese after 28 kilometres and kept pushing ahead through to the finish.
Haylay once again improved the course record, which was also her lifetime best, with her 2:24:47 win. Melese trailed exactly three minutes in arrears to finish second.
Kenya’s Peris Jerono, who was making her marathon debut, took third in 2:28:27 after bravely leading with a fast pace in the middle stages of the race.
Unlike the lopsided women’s race, the suspense in the men’s race lasted until the final kilometre.
A group of ten runners passed the 15-kilometre mark in 47:09 and 20 kilometres in 1:02:56. But 15 kilometres later, the pack was down to five.
Defending champion Esmael launched a powerful surge after the 38th kilometre. He managed to pull away for a sole lead and extend the gap between him and the chasers to 50 metres. However, it seemed the charge for the pole position had cost the Ethiopian too much energy. His speed decreased rapidly as the finish line loomed into sight.
Kenya’s Joel Kemboi Kimurer, who set a career best of 2:07:48 from his victory at the 2013 Gongju Marathon, reeled him in metre-by-metre and finally overtook the helpless Esmael with half a kilometre to go. Esmael was passed by two other runners before the line.
The 30-year-old Kimurer hit home in a 2:13:28 clocking to collect his first win since claiming the title in Seoul in 2016.
Although he fell at the 37.5km water station, Samuel Kiplimo Kosgei of Kenya, a 2:06:53 performer who broke 2:10 each year in the past four, managed to bounce back to take second in 2:13:44.
Abayneh Ayele of Ethiopia, the fourth place finisher at the 2016 World Half Marathon Championships, clocked 2:13:47 to finish third.
Vincent Wu for the IAAF